The scenic beach town of El Nido in northern Palawan attracts tourists far and wide with dramatic karst seascape of limestone islands, secluded beaches and amazing scuba diving sites. Over the decades, the jumping off point to Bacuit Bay has cultivated a cosmopolitan palate, opening restaurants, cafes and bars that mostly cater to foreign visitors.
Until the sudden pause of the COVID-19 lockdowns, new dining establishments have been popping up every few months. As the town welcomes visitors again, here are five new restaurants to check out when you revisit. Most of my recommendations are located in the town proper but, with development spreading out to Lio and Corong-Corong, also I’ve also included a few establishments in outlying areas.
Decorated with colorful Mayan murals and Frida Kahlo throw pillows, this brand-new Mexican restobar in Corong-Corong gets its name from Spanish slang, which roughly translates to “No way!” Or “You’re kidding me!”. At No Mames, you’ll be in disbelief as soon as you set your eyes on your beautifully plated order of well-curated bites like their Carnitas Oaxaca tacos (₱380) or pulpo (₱450) – grilled octopus with stewed peppers and beetroot hummus – crafted by their Spanish chef. Their mini churros (₱320) was a scrumptious choice for dessert, served with a skull-shaped shot glass of spiced chocolate sauce. ¡Salud!
Okay, Bella Vita has been around for six years but this Italian restobar along Corong-Corong Beach recently reworked their menu to include more premium pizzas and pastas. The Burratina (₱490, 9”) – one of their specialty Neapolitan pizzas – was divine, topped with burrata cheese, fresh basil and walnuts. This was paired with a rich plate of Al Tartufo pasta (₱390) in black truffle cream and Italian parmesan. Bella Vita also runs a poolside station at the rooftop of Lime Resort, a cruise ship-inspired hotel at the southernmost end of the beach. Either way, both spots are best visited at sunset.
There’s no better place in town to satisfy your cravings for Indian food than Biryani Kitchen. Run by a Mumbai-born chef-owner, this restaurant at the town proper serves a small but absolutely delicious menu of authentic homestyle North Indian cuisine. Their specialty biryani comes in three variants: chicken tikka (₱350), vegetable (₱350), and, my favorite, shrimp (₱400). I also highly recommend their chana masala (₱250), a chickpea stew served with puri bread.
As its name suggests, The Kollektive brings together local restaurant brands under one roof. It’s one of the few places in town that opens by 7am, serving breakfast like silog meals (₱230) and pancakes (₱200) under Ka Takam Takam. Kopi Bake serves hot or iced espresso-based drinks, cold brews, and tea, Kitchen 48 serves lunch and dinner, offering Filipino dishes like ox-tail kare-kare (₱395) and pork ribs sinigang sa kandis (₱360), made with the native kandis fruit (also known as batuan) used as a souring agent.
If you’re looking for a regular caffeine fix, look no further than Brew Haha at Entalula Bed & Breakfast along El Nido Beach. This beachside takeout store specializes in manually brewing strong coffee drinks at affordable prices. They have hot items like barako (₱50) and single-origin arabica (₱100). I’m not a coffee person, but I particularly enjoyed their Gayuma Iced Coffee (₱150). For non-coffee drinkers, they also serve brewed tea (₱100) and fruit shakes (₱100). This is the essential coffee stop before heading out or returning from your island-hopping tours.
On the other side of Entatula, across the street, is Flaky/Fowlmouth, another brand-new takeout store serving signature chicken burgers and savory meat pies. Their best-selling Mother Clucker! Burger (₱295) is made with Sriracha glaze, coleslaw and house mayo in brioche buns. The pies comes in three flavors: Mooo-ve Over (braised beef, ₱150), Mama’s Pot Pie (chicken, ₱140) and Pie Chick (chickpeas and potatoes, ₱125). And finish off with one of their coolers: Peach Mango Colada (₱220), Strawberry Daiquiri (₱220), or PV&J (₱180) – a non-alcoholic mix of pineapples, vanilla and raspberries.
Located 6 km north of the town proper, Kape ni Manang makes for a ideal stopover on tours around mainland El Nido. Driving a rental scooter, I stopped by this rustic roadside cafe at their new location for breakfast en route to my hike to Nagkalit-kalit Falls, ordering one of their silog meals: pork tocino with garlic rice and egg (₱200). Aside from their all-day breakfast offerings like omelets and toast, they also serve Filipino favorites like chicken Inasal (₱220), lechon kawali (₱320), and stuffed squid (₱320), to name a few. The cafe also sells products made by Palawan-based social enterprises at their souvenir stop.